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Just Because I Had an Eating Disorder Doesn’t Mean My Daughter Will

Photograph by Getty Images

By the time I was in Kindergarten, I was already obsessed with food. The one and only time I got in trouble and had to sit in the "time out" chair, I'd stolen a graham cracker. By all accounts, I was a total Goody Two Shoes, but the lure of extra food was enough to draw me into petty theft. For the next 15 years, my warped relationship to food wreaked havoc on my life until my bulimia almost killed me at 19, and I got into recovery.

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In Kindergarten, however, all I knew was that I loved food and that was the reason I was pudgy. I also knew that little girls were supposed to be skinny, and I was ashamed that I wasn't. I learned to hate myself for my body size before I learned to read. I tried to hide my doughy stomach as I sat in circle time, tuning out my Kindergarten teacher during a reading lesson. With her wooden pointer, Mrs. Hunter tapped on the words "mat," "sat" and "hat," but all I could think was fat, fat, fat.

My relationship to food was a prison, the foundation of which was set by the time I started school.

Now my daughter is in Kindergarten, and I find myself monitoring her habits to see if she's destined to be a prisoner too. I'm vigilant, on guard, waiting to pounce on the first signs that her relationship to food is amiss. I read her snack habits like tea leaves — Will she or won't she? Will she be the kind of kid who prefers playing with her friends to eating snacks alone in her room? Or will she be like me, someone whose childhood years were spent wishing everyone would leave her alone so she could eat a Twix?

When my daughter asks for a second cookie, I panic. What if it's a sign that she's falling into the dark abyss? So help me God, my daughter will not lose years of her life to the insidious loop of self-hatred from an eating disorder.

I'm pretty sure you're not supposed to assume your kid is a budding bulimic.

What would it mean if after all my suffering I turned a blind eye to early signs that my daughter might be headed down the same dark path?

For all my panicked moments, however, there are times when I think it's possible she'll be okay — that she'll come out unscathed from her teenaged years with skills, talents and passions, not just a nasty bulimic habit. Maybe.

I understand, on some level, that I'm simply projecting my past experience onto my innocent daughter. Like Linus and the Great Pumpkin, I'm looking for something that may never materialize. I don't know how to parent a daughter to ensure she maintains a healthy attitude about food, but I'm pretty sure you're not supposed to assume your kid is a budding bulimic.

The other day we were at a birthday party. My daughter took one bite of cake. "The icing is yucky," she said in disgust. She ran back to the playground, infinitely more interested in her friendships than a slice of grocery store sheet cake festooned with a princess' visage. Relief washed over me. By her age, I'd lost the power to discriminate against frosting: If it was in front of me, I ate it. I never ever walked away from cake. I couldn't.

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That plate of abandoned cake with one bite taken out of it is a great symbol of hope for me. Maybe I didn't pass on the cycle of devastation from an eating disorder to my daughter. Maybe she'll never be imprisoned in the way that I was.

Maybe she's not like me.

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